Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Smoked Meat - Part I

While many of you were out grilling this past holiday weekend, I was stuck in the middle of nowhere, Mississippi, having a culinary adventure. Nowhere, MS, otherwise known to me as Carthage, MS is where some of the boyfriend's family is, and it is always a treat to go. Jackson is close, but far away enough that each and every star can be seen from the carport (carports are standard issue in MS). And it's a town where if you don't know everyone by name, it's because you are new to town or have serious memory loss issues.

These pictures you're looking at are of the xxthousand dollar smoker, made by Ole Hickory Pits (, and of Howard and Boneda loading up the smoker. This ginormous smoker, measuring 5ft x 5ft x 6.5ft and sitting on a 16ft trailer, can hold 30 turkeys, 90 racks of baby back ribs, 50 boston butts, 50 whole chickens, and 40 (12lb) briskets. While we did not get to test these capacities (we used 4 of the 15 available racks), we did get a whole lot of meat in that smoker over the weekend. On Saturday, we began the smoking marathon.

Our first batch was chicken wings, a whole chicken, and a dozen ears of corn. We rubbed the chicken wings with a rub that came with the smoker. There was no ingredient list, but I'm pretty sure this is the recipe: paprika, black pepper, salt, chili powder, maybe some onion and garlic powder and possibly cayenne. I didn't taste any sugar in this rub, but if you like your rub with a hint of sweetness, I would add brown sugar. Then we dipped the wings in some spicy bbq sauce and plunked the wings on the racks. We rubbed the whole chicken with the rub. We didn't do anything to the corn except stick it on the rack.

What came out 3 hours later were probably the juiciest wings I have had in a long time. The corn was cooked just right, and I can't wait to get into the whole chicken (it is currently awaiting devouring in my freezer.)

I can't say that this smoking experience is going to make me run out and buy a commercial smoker, but it did certainly tempt me. I think with my more modest means, I am seriously considering purchasing a more appropriately-sized gas smoker so that I can hopefully recreate these smoky treats at home.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Red Beans & Rice

Beans, beans...
I love beans. I also love rice (I can't help it, I'm Chinese). . I really like cooking my own beans because it reminds me of my dad, so I bought 6 bags of all sorts of beans, and this is the first recipe I've made with them. And since I love beans and rice, well, that's what I made:

For the beans:
1 bag small red beans
2 tsp canola oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
4-6 oz smoked pork product (bacon, pancetta, etc.)
2-3 cups chicken broth
salt & pepper to taste

Check the beans for rocks and undesirables.
Soak the beans in a large bowl overnight or 6-8 hours. Use enough water to cover the beans at least 3 inches.
Drain and rinse the beans. They are now ready to cook.

In a large pot, heat the canola oil over med-high heat and cook the garlic, onion and smoked meat (I was lucky enough to have a smoked pork butt so that's what I used, but bacon works great too). Watch that the garlic does not burn. When the onion is almost translucent, add your beans and stir. Cook for about 2-3 minutes. Then add chicken broth.
Simmer over med-low heat for about 1-1/2 hours. The beans should be soft but not mushy. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Red Beans & Rice
1 cup rice, uncooked
1 1/2 cups water
1 tsp canola oil
1/4 tsp salt
1 smoked sausage link (I use turkey), diced
garlic powder, salt, and pepper to taste
hot sauce

Cook the rice in a rice cooker (add rice, water, oil, and salt). If you're not using a rice cooker, cook it according to the instructions on the package.
In a large pot, cook the sausage over med-high heat to get a good brown crust. Add the rice and mix well. Then add the beans you just cooked, mix well, and season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and hot sauce.
Garnish with chopped green onions, cilantro, or sour cream.
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Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I'm not going to lie. Phyllo dough scares me. It's so thin and delicate, and these are adjectives that I would definitely not use to describe myself. But I ran across a recipe for samosas and they looked really interesting, so I had to try it, even though the recipe called for Phyllo dough. Only after I made these samosas did I discover that samosas are traditionally made with a much thicker pastry and deep-fried, rather than baked. I will say this about the recipe: the filling was delicious. Next time I attempt a samosa, though, I will have to make my own pastry and deep-fry for a more authentic texture and flavor.

As I mentioned, the filling was great. The recipe I found was in Cooking Light magazine, and since I didn't have all the necessary ingredients, I had to improvise a little, but I think my modifications still allowed for a traditional flavor. The filling calls for potato, green peas, onions, ginger, garlic, cilantro, cumin, coriander, cardamom, and turmeric. I didn't have the last three spices on that list, so I used about a tablespoon of the store-bought curry block. You've probably seen it - it's in a gold box and it comes in two "flavors," hot and medium.

All that being said, it was a fun experiment. Knowing what I know now about the tastes and the method, I think the recipe I would use next time is this (found on

3/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups self-rising flour
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, cut in small pieces
9 tablespoons water

1 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
1/2 habenero chile, minced
1/2 teaspoon garam masala spice blend
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon red chile powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander leaves
Vegetable oil, for frying

To make the dough: Mix the salt and flour in a medium bowl or a food processor. With a pastry blender, incorporate the butter until crumbs have formed. Add the water a few tablespoons at a time, until you can form a ball. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes. Let it rest for about 15 minutes more. You can prepare the dough in advance and refrigerate it.

To make the filling: Boil the potatoes until tender. Drain and set aside.
If using fresh carrots, chop and simmer in water, to cover, in a small pot. Add the corn and peas to barely cook. Set aside to cool.
Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onion until golden. Add the garlic, ginger, and chile and cook for 2 minutes. Add the garam masala, turmeric, chile powder, and salt and cook 2 minutes more.
In a bowl combine the mashed potatoes, the onion and spice mixture, carrots, peas, corn, lemon juice, and chopped coriander. Mix well.

To assemble the samosas: Divide the dough into 9 equal size balls. On a floured surface, roll each ball into a 5-inch circle. Cut each circle in half.
Brush the straightedge side with a little water, fold it in half, and align the two straight sides so they overlap to form a cone shape. Squeeze the edges together to make a tight seal.
Place approximately 1 generous tablespoon of filling inside each cone, leaving the top edge clean. Moisten the inside top rim of the cone and press the edges together to make another tight seal.
Place the samosas on a tray until ready to fry. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.
Heat approximately 3 inches of vegetable oil in a deep saucepan.
Fry several samosas at a time, being careful not to crowd them. When 1 side turns golden brown, flip it over to brown on the other side. Drain on paper towels. Serve with chutney.
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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Spinach & Tomato Orzo

I love spinach. I don't even mind the weird feeling it leaves on your teeth when you eat it raw. I remember running across a spinach and orzo recipe somewhere, sometime ago, and I happened to have some of both, but not enough of each to make a full side dish out of only one. (Was that a confusing sentence?)
This is what I came up with, and this is not really a recipe with measures and instructions:

Cherry tomatoes
Flat-leaf parsley
Feta cheese, crumbled
Olive oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Salt to taste

What came out was a really tasty side, good both warm and cold.
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Tomato & Basil

I am the proud mother of twenty basil plants (grown from seed) and two red ripe tomatoes (grown from a purchased plant.)
Happy Mothers' Week to me!
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Monday, May 5, 2008

Excuse me sir, there's a beer in my soup!

I like cheese. A lot. When I worked at the Mill (in Birmingham), there was a soup that was made every day called Cheddar Ale. I loved this soup so much, I really could not get enough of it. Unfortunately, I didn't ever see the cooks make the soup, so I couldn't tell you what was in it except beer and cheese. I found an Emeril recipe, and I replicated it (mostly), but I'll tell you now it was not that great.

My first mistake was the type of beer. I used Sierra Nevada Pale Ale because they sell individual bottles of this at Target. If I had been thinking harder, I would have remembered that, at the Mill, they used a much darker beer. I think it was either a bock or a porter, though I think a porter would make more sense with Cheddar cheese. Anyway, here's the recipe I used:

4 ounces bacon, diced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/4 cup celery, chopped
1/4 cup flour
12 ounces of beer, pale ale
1 quart chicken stock
8 ounces Cheddar cheese, grated
Salt & pepper to taste

Brown the bacon in the soup pot. Remove excess grease. Add the butter, onions, and celery to the pot with the bacon and cook for 5 minutes over medium heat. Dust the flour over vegetables and bacon, cook, stirring for 3 minutes. Stir in the beer, and then the stock.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cheese and season with salt and pepper.

Notes: So I already told you you probably don't want to use a pale ale. The Sierra Nevada made mine taste saltier than it actually was. And though this soup had a good consistency, the kind at the Mill was much thicker. Also, I suggest using an immersion blender to process the vegetable bits so you get a creamier soup.

I will do some more experimenting. If I get it right, I'll post the recipe.
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Friday, May 2, 2008

Chicken Tetrazzini

I've been slacking on just about everything that doesn't have to do with work this week. I was too lazy to go to the grocery store last Sunday, and I decided it wouldn't hurt to get rid of some of the food we already have in the pantry and in the freezer. That usually translates into casseroles. I had plenty of frozen chicken breast and peas in the freezer, and there's always pasta in the pantry. I figured a chicken tetrazzini would be the perfect lazy shopper recipe:

3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 lemon
1/3 cup AP flour
1 cup half-and-half (or heavy cream)
4 cups milk (either 2% or whole)
1 cup chicken broth
12 oz linguine or spaghetti
1 cup frozen peas
¼ bunch flat-leaf parsley – coarsely chopped
¼ cup breadcrumbs (either fresh or store-bought)
¼ cup parmesan
ground nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Cook pasta to al dente.
Cut chicken into cubes and cook over med-high heat till cooked through.
Set pasta and chicken aside while you prepare the sauce.
In a large pan or pot, melt the butter over medium heat.
Once melted, add flour and whisk for 2 minutes.
Whisk in milk, cream, chicken broth, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
Turn heat to high and bring to a boil.
Simmer until sauce is slightly thickened (10 minutes) and whisk often. You will be rewarded with a thick, creamy sauce if you cook the full ten minutes
Combine pasta, chicken, sauce, frozen peas, parsley, and lemon juice.
Move the mixture into an oven-proof dish.
Top casserole with breadcrums and parmesan.
Bake uncovered for 25-35 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

This serves 4-6 people.
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